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Wednesday, 4 April 1973
Page: 1086

Mr McKenzie (Diamond Valley) - In speaking to clause 3 of this Bill. I am rather amazed at the attitude of the Liberal Party which for so long has said that it believes in democracy and used other words which tend to mean the same thing, f am amazed that it has not seized the opportunity presented by the introduction of this Bill to put a few teeth into its sentiments. 1 am amazed that it is letting the albatross of the Country Party hang around its neck yet again. The Country Party is entitled to representation. I have lived and worked in country areas. I admire country people. But, when it comes to a question of who is to represent whom in the national Parliament, country people are entitled only to the representation which they can earn. That means one vote one value. One can talk all one likes about whether the margin should be 5 per cent, 10 per cent, 20 per cent or whatever one likes, but as nearly as possible - this Bill and this clause point in the right direction - representation should be on the basis of one vote one value.

I am amazed that the Country Party thinks that the people of Australia, let alone this national Parliament, will believe that Country Party members should enjoy more advantage than anyone else in Australia enjoys. When we talk about whether the margin should be 5 per cent, 10 per cent or 20 per cent, we should consider the size of electorates. I have a table which shows that, of the 125 electorates for this national Parliament, 61 have areas of from 5 to 150 square miles, 10 have areas of from 150 to 500 square miles and 5 have areas of from 500 to 1,000 square miles. The table continues in a fairly even progression to electorates with areas of from 10,000 to 15,000 square miles. There are 14 electorates in that category. Then there are electorates with areas of 200,000 square miles and more. The electorates of the Northern Territory and Kalgoorlie, in Western Australia, have areas in excess of 500,000 square miles. How on earth can one relate these figures to the difficulty caused by the area and remoteness of electorates from one electorate to another? In that sort of context it is quite impossible.

If we are to try to make it easier for honourable members to represent electorates of large dimensions, we ought to have better ways of doing it. One of the interesting things about this argument is that in a State such as Victoria, which compared with the rest of this continent is fairly well populated, the same sorts of arguments are used in the State Parliament in discussions of the size of electorates and whether a smaller number of voters should be permitted in country electorates than in metropolitan electorates. The difference between the size of a country electorate for the Victorian Parliament and that of a country electorate for this national Parliament is so great that it bears no comparison whatever. The main differences in area when electorates are compared is not between the metropolitan electorates and the country electorates but between some country electorates and other country electorates.

Mr Corbett - Whose fault is that?

Mr McKenzie (Diamond Valley) - It is not the fault of anybody, except if people such as the honourable member say that there should be a weighting in the number of voters in country areas. The electorate of Darling - to pick a Labor seat - which is predominantly a country area, has an area of about 132,000 square miles. Even if the weighting of that electorate was such that the number of electors was only 50 per cent of what it is, there would still be no comparison between its area, which would be about 66,000 square miles, and that of the largest electorate in Victoria, Mallee, which is approximately 20,000 square miles. So there is no comparison on this basis. Of course, what the Country Party, unfortunately supported by the Liberal Party on this occasion, is trying to do is to preserve electoral advantage. It may be called malapportionment, which I suppose it is, or it may be called gerrymandering. But, no matter what it is called, the effect is the same. Certain areas and certain people, because of the area in which they live, are advantaged to the disadvantage of other people. Eventually that sort of system brings a national Parliament or a State Parliament into disrepute. It makes people frustrated with the system which we call democracy and which most of us in this place - I hope, all of us - uphold.

I know that I have no real hope of convincing honourable members on the other side of the chamber, but I really hope that in the future they will give a little more consideration to these points. I particularly hope that the Liberal Party will give a little more consideration to them. The Australian people should have their say. They should not be stopped from having their say by a malapportionment of electorates. 1 should like to refer to a document which indicates the sort of action which has been taken by the United States Supreme Court on this question of whether an electorate should be above or below a quota. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional a new redistricting plan but allowed its use for the 1966 election. The Court said that population variations of 8.7 per cent above the average and 7.3 per cent below it were still too large. In the United States it was held that every person's vote should as nearly as practicable have the same value and the same weighting. We should be trying to achieve this in Australia.

Two principal jobs have to be performed by a member of Parliament. One is his constituency work. I believe that in larger areas - I hope I have shown conclusively that there is so much variation in the sizes of country electorates that there can be no real model for a large country area - some assistance should be given to honourable members if they can show that they have some disadvantage in representing people in their constituency work. The other main job of a member of Parliament is the making of national policy. This, of course, is what the whole question is all about. The Country Party and, I am sorry to say, the Liberal Party are opposing this legislation. I do not really believe that such opposition is ultimately in the best interests of the Liberal Party, and I believe that many members of the Liberal Party really think it is not. It is in the interests of the groups which have an advantage in the weighting of electorates and the value of votes to keep the present system. But this does not mean that the Parliament should agree to keep the present system. I would be just as opposed to the present system if the Labor Party were trying to introduce it.

Spokesmen from the other side of the chamber have said that the Government is trying to gerrymander the electorates. This accusation will not wash because nobody will believe it. I believe that if we are forced to put this issue to the Australian people they will realise what the true situation is and will realise that in order to change it they will need to re-elect a Labor government, if the matter goes that far. I, for one, will support that proposition.

Mr Corbett - You are taking a risk.

Mr McKenzie (Diamond Valley) - I do not think we would be taking any risk. In Victoria at the election in 1952, with the biggest swing to the Labor Party that ever occurred, the main issue was electoral reform. I ask this House to agree to this clause and to carry the Bill because I believe that the measure will be to the ultimate advantage of the Australian people and democracy in this country.

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